Lives in the Yiddish Theatre


Yitskhok Eykhl

Born 1757 (not, as in Reyzen’s “Lexicon”, 1875, or as in Shtif, 1758) in Copenhagen, Denmark ( not in Konigsberg, as in the above biographies.)  His great grandfather’s name was Yechiel Levin. “Yechiel” became “Ikhl,” from which derived the surname “Eykhl.” A. arrives at a young age in Konigsberg, where he later studies at the university and tutors the grandchildren of merchant/ banker Moshe Friedlander.  He also befriends Moshe (Moses) Mendelssohn and later becomes his first biographer.

His first significant societal venture was to found in Konigsberg, supported by the Friedlanders and aided by friends in Berlin and Breslau, the “Chevra Dorshey Lashon Ever" (Society of Friends of  Hebrew Literature), which later became  “Chevrat Sochrey ha-Tov ve-ha –Tushiah” (Benevolent Merchants Society) of Konigsberg and Berlin.

In 1778, the “Chevra” opened its “Frayshul,” a modern Yiddish school in Berlin, and in 1782, published, in Hebrew, a call for the founding of such a school in Konigsberg, but due to strenuous resistance from the Orthodox community, the plan was not realized.

In the years 1784-8, the “Chevra” publishes in Konigsberg its organ for the revival of the Hebrew language, “ha-Measef,” edited by A. and featuring reportage of his trip to Copenhagen, where he headed on May 6, 1784. He returns to Konigsberg in 1786 and publishes his German translation of the “Sidur,” a Hebrew transliteration of which, published by David Friedlander, appears in Berlin the same year.

In 1788, A. settles in Berlin and brings “ha-Measef” from which he pulls back 1790, but in which he still published his articles.

He earns his livelihood as manager of the print shop at “Chinuch Nearim” school and later becomes bookkeeper at Meyer Warburg”s establishment.

In 1789, his Mendelssohn biography, “Toldtr ha-Rambaman,” appears in Berlin (reprinted Vienna, 1814.)

His translation & explication of “Mshley” is published as well as the first part of “Moreh Nevuchim” with Shlomo Maimon’s commentary, “Givat ha-Moreh.”

Among various remaining manuscripts is his comprehensive Hebrew translation of Medelssohn’s “Yerushalayim.”

In 1791-2 he co- founds, with Mendelssohn’s eldest son, Yosef, Aharon Halle Wolfssohn (author of the Yiddish comedy “Leichtsinn un Frammelei”) and others, the  “Society of Friends” to provide material support to young scholars of the Enlightenment. He devotes himself wholeheartedly to the Society, serves on its board in 1792, as Secretary in 1795 and as Chairman from 1797-1801.

A. penned the first Yiddish comedy, entitled “Reb Henech or What Do You Do With It,” a family portrait in 3 acts.”(manuscript at the  Yiddish Theological Seminary in Breslau, Signature 46.)

The comedy is written in two languages, Yiddish and German. It is (according to Max Erik) a naturalistic comedy, which strives to mirror the conduct, manners, language and style of its protagonists, who fall into two camps – the enlightened  and the orthodox, and thus speak two languages:  the new generation – a pure German,  the old - the purest, most folk inflected Yiddish. Non-Jewish German characters also speak pure German, while an Englishman and Frenchman who figure in the comedy speak half German and half English or French.

The comedy aims to point out the harm of hypocrisy and even more so to underline the struggle for reform in Jewish law in Prussia.

Not having familiarized themselves with the subject matter of the comedy, a whole slew of literary historians (relying on the German-Jewish historian Jost) like Tsinberg, Dr. M. Pines, Reyzen, held that it was an expression of his scornful attitude towards Yiddish.

The Yiddish manuscript contains thirty-one sheets (sixty-two pages). The many errors in Hebrew words make it clear that it is a copy, not written by the author himself.

The exact date when the comedy was written is not known. Steinschneider maintains that he saw a copy (unclear if print or handwritten) dated 1797. Events mentioned in the work indicate that it was written around 1793-4, and as such is the first comedy written in Yiddish. It was not written to be performed, but to be read.

A printed edition of the comedy, entitled “Reb Henech, the Betrayed Bigot” or “Der Entlarfte Shoneheilige,” in German with Hebrew elements in Hebrew script, was published in 1846 by M. Alenstein in Berlin. (A copy found in the library of Noyech Prilutsky in Warsaw, is the basis for a Yiddish version being prepared by Zalmen Reyzen).It consists of fifty-six pages in octave form.

Both texts contain many corrections apparently made by the author himself which indicate that the German version is a later manuscript.

On June 18, 1804 A. died in Berlin. In his will, dated April, 28, 1804, he asks his wife to remember that she needs to live on for her child. (A ‘s only son, Avraham, was named after his grandfather. In his “Lexicon,” Z. Reyzen mistakenly refers to Eykhl as Yitchak-Avraham.) A lock of A.’s hair was found among some pages of his will.

  • Zalmen Reyzen — “Lexicon of Yiddish Literature,” Vol. 1, pp 79, 909.

  • B. Gorin – “History of Yiddish Theatre,” Vol. 1, p. 72.

  • N. Shtif – Literature-Historical Legends, “The Red World,” Kharkov, pp. 7-8, 10, 1926.

  • Dr. Yakov Shatsky – New Works from the Yiddish Literature,” “Pinkus,” New York, 1-2, 1927, pp. 175-6.

  • Max Erik – The First Yiddish Comedy, “Shriftn fun Yiddish vaysnshaftlekhn institute,” Philadelphia Shriftn, Vilna, 1929, Third Volume, pp. 555-584.







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Adapted from the original Yiddish text found within the  "Lexicon of the Yiddish Theatre" by Zalmen Zylbercweig, Volume 1, page 55.

English translation courtesy of Rena Borow.

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